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Published May 20 2010

Mayor hopefuls face hot-button topics

West Fargo’s mayoral candidates tackled myriad issues Thursday night, including the proposed North Dakota flood diversion and recent hot-button issues, such as access issues with a new thrift store.

During a candidates’ forum Thursday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters, incumbent Rich Mattern and City Commissioner Mike Thorstad drew sharp criticism from political newcomer Peter Karl.

West Fargo voters will choose among the three candidates June 8.

The candidates differed on how West Fargo should help pay for the proposed North Dakota diversion to the Red River, which stands to benefit the city greatly through the additional land it would protect against flooding.

Reiterating previous statements on the issue, Thorstad and Mattern said they prefer a county sales tax over special assessments but stressed that funding decisions won’t yet be made any time soon.

Karl said West Fargo shouldn’t be included in any tax to pay for the diversion.

“If they’re going to be using (the Sheyenne River) diversion, they should be giving us a tax,” Karl said. “Before we even worry about what Fargo’s doing, let’s worry about what we already have.”

Residents attending the forum also asked the candidates about the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch store being constructed off 13 1/2 Avenue East.

Residents there have voiced concern over increased traffic levels that the business would bring to the narrow residential street that’s home to many families with children.

Karl accused West Fargo commissioners of complacency in addressing the dangers that families said they’ll face because of the business traffic.

“They would rather see the children get hurt. They don’t want to see any kind of protection to the people that are living there,” Karl said, in one of many instances during the forum when he blasted current officials and their decisions. “Unfortunately right now, City Hall is saying we’ll wait for accidents to happen before we do something useful, and I think that’s the wrong approach.”

Thorstad and Mattern both assured audience members that city officials have been working to find a feasible solution as quickly as possible.

“I certainly disagree with that. To even imply that we want somebody to get hurt is somewhat reprehensible,” Mattern said in response to Karl’s accusations. “We are going to come up with some sort of solution that will alleviate the problem.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541